Elling is a delightful Norwegian drama centered around the eponymous Elling and Kjell Bjarne, a pair of rehabilitated members from a "nuthouse" as they call it. They must make a success of independent living in a flat in Oslo or return to the asylum. The play traces their attempt at leading normal lives in the big bad world under the scrutiny of social worker Frank.
The script, based on Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s 1996 novel, is brought to stage by Dramanon, a group that’s made a forte of productions with highly individualistic characters and a quirky sense of humor. Elling sparkles with wit and very affectionately details its eccentric leads. The pace is laid-back but there isn’t a dull moment – you wait expectantly to know what the characters will say or do next.
The bond between the apparently mismatched people Elling and Kjell Bjarne is very endearing, more so when their other relationships threaten to bring a strain between them. Elling is the more insecure of the two, and it’s both amusing and touching to witness his reactions when he finds Kjell Bjarne drawn towards the lady upstairs or getting friendly with his pal Alfons Jørgensen.
Anshu Bora has an extremely expressive face and mannerisms and brought some very nice touches to Kjell Bjarne’s blustering innocence, with the shuffling walk and the guttural laugh. He looked the part so well that I wondered if he had actually remained unwashed for days for authenticity’s sake. Wish I could say the same about Nakul Bhalla’s makeup for the part of Alfons – he acted old all right but was clearly a young man in white-haired disguise that wouldn’t take in Dr. Watson.
Deepanjan Dey did admirably as Elling. He had the largest stage time and the most varied scenes to perform, including a couple of difficult soliloquies which he pulled off with fine assurance. His fear of strangers and of plastic equipment is so palpable that you almost feel like saying ‘there, there’ and putting him back into the security of his cupboard.
A play about people out of the ordinary has it tough – the audience has to be convinced of the characters’ motivations and actions to invest emotionally in them. For Elling, being expected to pick up a ringing phone is like being asked to jump into the fire. As the onlooker, you are amused yet a part of you empathizes with his dread and rejoices when he gradually gets over it, just as it revels in his happiness at the prospect of "going to a cabin" and in forming friendships without the help of the Norwegian government.
When a play makes you feel fear and pain and joy in things that seem laughably mundane in real life, then the play has truly succeeded.
The only disappointment in the show was its venue. The seats at Alliance Francaise’s auditorium do not allow everyone to get a fair view of the stage, especially if a tall person occupies the seat right in front of you. Whenever the actors sat down on the floor, out they went from my view. One also has to tilt one’s head up as the seats are at a lower level than the stage, and sometimes the bad-looking ceiling will catch the gaze which is very distracting. This was my first experience of watching a play at Alliance Francaise and I will not wish to go there again if I can help it. Good old Ranga Shankara is the best!